Monogamy - Theatre Review

Caroline Mortimer is one of the nation’s favourite celebrity chefs – an upper class cookery darling who seems to have it all. However, over the course of one night her perfectly ordered world begins to unravel. Her beautifully rendered kitchen is now host to her blustering husband, coked-up grieving assistant, recently graduated child in turmoil, her carpenter lover, and his damaged wife, and on top of all that, they are waiting on a potential buyer to view their home. In a somewhat classical turn, these gregarious personalities are trapped inside by a tempestuous storm, with tensions slowly simmering until brought to the boil. Thus unfolds ‘Monogamy,’ the new play by Torben Betts commissioned by the Original Theatre Company.

Betts mentions in the programme that one of the starting points for this project came from a little challenge between himself and another dramatist to write a new full length play that is one continuous scene – a tricky prospect indeed. Indeed, there are many interesting and intriguing concepts, ideas and characters floating in this stew, but the prohibitive location does seem a little old-fashioned. There is also a bit of a disconnect with style, with Act One verging on a dark satire, and Act Two transforming into more of a boisterous Ayckbourn-style comedy.

Due to the predominantly classical styling of the show, Monogamy does sadly become a little predictable in places. And much like a stew, there is a lot of potentially superfluous stodge around some cracking one-liner dumplings. It’s also difficult to tell if we are supposed to sympathise with the upper-class characters, or mock their ‘first-world problems’. The characters that really caught my attention were tormented Sally with her mental health issues (a criminally underused Charlie Brooks) and her adulterous carpenter husband Graeme (Jack Sandle). As the evening progresses it becomes evident they have both been terribly affected by Tory cuts, and they are trying their best to provide for their children amongst difficult circumstances. However, these characters, along with grieving assistant Amanda (Genevieve Gaunt) don’t really seem to get a decent look in here. Instead we feast more readily on the upper-class characters, who all in all, don’t have a lot of interesting things to say.

Due to the confusing style of the show, characters veer from sympathetic realisations of ‘real people’ to over the top caricatures. Watching Janie Dee as Caroline go from concerned mother with a drinking problem, to a ‘hilarious’ can’t-stand-up drunk was worrying. Do we care? Or is this just funny? It’s clear this production is still a work in progress, and perhaps there have been one to many opinions overriding its creation. I had the sense the cast may have been working with newly-cut or shaped material as some sections felt slightly unsure.

With a firm hand and some fine slicing and dicing, I think Monogamy could be a wonderfully entertaining play. There are several stand out moments, and the cast are mostly very good. Charlie Brooks especially does a wonderful job and should be featured much more. Much like a soufflé in the oven, I am really willing this play to rise to its full potential in the coming months.

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